Birds may have a more highly developed sense of smell than researchers previously thought, contend scholars who have found that penguins may use smell to determine if they are related to a potential mate.
The research by the University of Chicago and the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, shows how related birds are able to recognize each other. The study, published Wednesday, Sept. 21 in the article, "Odor-based Recognition of Familiar and Related Conspecifics: A First Test Conducted on Captive Humboldt Penguins (Spheniscus humboldti)" in the journal PLoS ONE, could help conservationists design programs to help preserve endangered species.
"Smell is likely the primary mechanism for kin recognition to avoid inbreeding within the colony," said Heather Coffin, lead author of the paper.
Coffin conducted the research while a graduate student at UChicago and was joined in writing the paper by Jill Mateo, associate professor in Comparative Human Development at UChicago, and Jason Watters, director of animal behavior research for the Chicago Zoological Society.
"This is the first study to provide evidence for odor-based kin discrimination in birds," said Mateo, who is a specialist on kin recognition.
Experts said the work offers important insights into how birds use smell to guide behavior.
"The work by the research group is truly groundbreaking in that it shows for the first time ever in birds how the olfactory sense of captive penguins is both informative and functional in a behaviorally critical context: namely the recognition of friends from foes in general, and relatives from non-relatives in particular," said Mark E. Hauber, professor of psychology at Hunter College, a specialist on bird social recognition.
Penguins are ideal subjects because they typically live in colonies made up of thousands of birds. They live in monogamous pairs an arrangement that faci
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